Reading a room has never been
Donald Trump’s forte: In February, when asked by African-American reporter
April Ryan whether he planned to meet with the Congressional Black Caucus, Trump responded, “Do you want to set up the meeting? Are they friends of yours?” In October, while visiting hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, the president told residents of the island that theirs wasn’t “a real catastrophe, like Katrina,” bragged about the comparatively low death count, and tossed rolls of paper towels into the crowd like he was practicing free throws. But on Monday, the president lowered expectations still further when he made what many interpreted as a racist joke about Native Americans . . . during a ceremony honoring Navajo veterans at the White House.
Standing in front of a portrait of President Andrew Jackson, who famously oversaw the forced relocation of the Cherokee Nation that resulted in thousands of deaths, Trump told the group, “I just want to thank you because you are very, very special people. You were here long before any of us were here.” Then, without any obvious antecedent, he added: “Although, we have a representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago . . . they call her Pocahontas,” a reference to Senator
Elizabeth Warren, who says that she is part Native American.
Perhaps due to the setting, Trump’s diss didn’t exactly land—according to CNN (and to footage of the event), it was met with uncomfortable silence. During an appearance on MSNBC, Warren responded by saying, “It is deeply unfortunate that the president of the United States cannot even make it through a ceremony honoring these heroes without having to throw out a racial slur.”
John Norwood, general secretary of the Alliance of Colonial Era Tribes, told NBC News that he really wishes the president would “stop using our historical people of significance as a racial slur against one of his opponents.”
The White House, meanwhile, was quick to defend the president. In a pair of statements that rival each other for absurdity, Press Secretary
Sarah Sanders told reporters that 1) it’s actually not a racial slur for Trump to call Warren Pocahontas, and 2) “what people find offensive is Senator Warren lying about her heritage to advance her career.”